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Lakoff writes: "Conservative bigotry goes beyond racism. It extends to every aspect of social life."

George Lakoff, 2012. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
George Lakoff, 2012. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Has the Dark Side of American Conservatism Taken Over?

By George Lakoff, George Lakoff's Facebook Page

14 October 18


ome lifelong Republicans are having sudden realizations about what conservatives really believe. Max Boot, who is leaving the Republican Party and wishes "ill fortune" on its candidates, writes:

"It would be nice to think that Donald Trump is an anomaly who came out of nowhere to take over an otherwise sane and sober movement. But it just isn’t so. Upon closer examination, it’s obvious that the history of modern conservative is permeated with racism, extremism, conspiracy-mongering, isolationism and know-nothingism."

But conservative bigotry goes beyond racism. It extends to every aspect of social life. An understanding of the conservative moral hierarchy - the way strict conservatives see the world - helps you understand everything about today's Republican Party. It explains why Republicans forced the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, why they put immigrant children in baby jails, why they're committed to destroying the Earth and its natural resources, etc.

Here is the hierarchy:

  • God above Man
  • Man above Nature
  • The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak)
  • The Rich above the Poor
  • Employers above Employees
  • Adults above Children
  • Western culture above other cultures
  • America above other countries
  • Men above Women
  • Whites above Nonwhites
  • Christians above non-Christians
  • Straights above Gays

Question: Has the dark side of American conservatism taken over, as Boot suggests? Or has its true core simply been revealed for all to see?

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+19 # Jim Young 2018-10-14 23:39
I'd say the dark side, or at least the dark money has taken over. Though a fifth generation Republican, related by marriage to the Washburn brothers that played such a large part in founding what started as the new majority Opposition Coalition in the 34th Congress, and a loyal member for my 1st 50 years, I left about the same time Elizabeth Warren did.

The disgusting Newt Gingrich/Frank Luntz GoPac memo, "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" was beginning to be applied, to me in what seemed the way an earlier Cato Institute piece had suggested using "Leninist" propaganda, and implied soft sabotage against opponents.

I thought they might come to their senses, and return to what I believed ethical leaders would insist upon, but instead was among a few encouraged by a fund raiser to "fight dirtier than Democrats." I left to become No Party Preference for the next 20 years.

Now, I'm reading Jason Stanley's "How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them." Having been a toddler military dependent in Germany during the Nuremberg Trials and Berlin Airlift, I've had more interest than many, in how Germans saw Hitler as more popular in Germany than FDR was in the US.

Though the scale seems much less extreme the tactics are too similar, and give me nightmares beyond anything like the only two I'd had in 72 years (one as a feverish 9-year old, and one in 1983 when "The Day After" aired while I was in Missile Warning. (These are worse and many more.)
-11 # twestheimer 2018-10-15 03:15
A parallel examination of Liberals who love war, chase big dollar donors and give precedence to corporations over "the people"?
+4 # librarian1984 2018-10-16 08:49
To your point:

By the time Obama left office defense spending was at its highest since WW2 and Trump has asked for an 11% increase over the next two years.

A majority of Democrats in the House and Senate voted to pass the $727 billion military budget.

Yes, the current Democrap Party is pro-war, pro-corporate and works for rich people. But people don't like to talk about that.
0 # librarian1984 2018-10-16 08:53
Every Democrat should be worried that People like Boot, Brennan et al feel comfortable moving to the Democraps. It says more about the party than it does about the GOP.

I wouldn't, however, say the GOP is anywhere close to anti-war. Two people don't have much of an impact.
+5 # Montanan 2018-10-16 18:07
twestheimer: If one loves war, chases big-dollar donors and gives precedence to corporations over "the people," one is not a liberal, with or without a capital L.
+3 # ericlipps 2018-10-18 04:40
Quoting twestheimer:
A parallel examination of Liberals who love war, chase big dollar donors and give precedence to corporations over "the people"?

Anyone who meets those criteria isn't a liberal in the first place.
+19 # DongiC 2018-10-15 04:51
The core of conservatism of hanging on to the values of the past has been corrupted by that god damned love of money and power that has simply overwhelmed its more respected values. Actually, I think the entire world has become more complicated with the ascent of science and industrialism and a conservative approach lends itself to the acquisition and retention of goods. The Devil is in the goods and, let's face it, luxuries and club memberships are fun.

The trouble is human beings in their mad pursuit of riches forget about other things of importance like kindness, fairness, helping the poor and handicapped, equity, education, fine arts, sympathy, and, yes, love and sacrifice. Humans are such a combination of good and evil that your soul spins.

But now, we have a leader who appeals to our darker side. Minorities suffer, children of immigrants are put in kennels after they were separated from their parents at the border, victims of hurricanes wallowed in their misery with federal help and care slow in the coming. Puerto Rico is a national disgrace. Trump went there and tossed out rolls of paper to soak up the flood waters. The man is a total ass. Yet, he knows how to stir his base and insult Democrats and everyone else who crosses him. The country is more and more divided as we approach a critical midterm election. Women are deeply agitated with Kavanaugh and nazi-like agitators are on the loose in NYC. Crises everywhere as the system buckles.
+16 # relegn 2018-10-15 06:09
American conservatism only has a dark side there is no light side. American conservatism has never been more than a business lobby although some of its' adherents didn't and don't seem to understand that fact.
+16 # ddd-rrr 2018-10-15 07:28
I *think* George Lakoff has gotten it, uh, "right" in his description of the current state
of those on the hard right, aka "Republicans" -- and the sooner that the remaining
wise people who still call themselves "Republicans" realize what that party now
represents under Trump, and who still can, should escape that monstrosity of
a party as soon as possible to save their own integrity from destruction.
+28 # Citizen Mike 2018-10-15 08:25
This is certainly not the conservatism of Buckley or Goldwater, which was intellectually respectable and rationally arguable. This is authoritarian brutality which is not defensible at all! I have said for years that the Republican Party is cousin to the Nazis and others scoffed at my opinion, but look, there it is!
-3 # Robbee 2018-10-15 09:36
are "ugly americans" truly "ugly americans"?

when prof. lakoff starts asking ME questions, do i feel a little unnerved?

also of interest - how many "ugly americans" can fit on the shiny, bald dickhead of a minority president? - an Infinite number?
+22 # NAVYVET 2018-10-15 10:05
As an 82 year old white (but shrewdly observant) woman raised in the Midwest and South, I can attest that Whites above Nonwhites must be raised to a much higher level. I would put it as number 3 on the list. It's my view that Drumpf maintains his base by constantly reminding them that European skin color (especially north European) is God's Dress for Success--the mark of superiority after Noah beached the Ark. Doesn't matter how badly pale skin sunburns or acquires skin cancers and outpaces with acne, or that nearly all Europeans who came to the white supremacist countries like North America, Australia and South Africa, were losers in their home worlds (landless young sons of the aristocracy,sta rving poor, or belonging to a wrong religion), or that the ones who made good in their new worlds got it largely by dumb luck (a mine strike, an oil gusher, a lucky gambling day on the Stock Market) not from brains. That's why his Base, whether rich or poor, are not noted for logic or even "common sense" rationality.
+9 # slkayne 2018-10-15 11:15
This piece shows that conservatism has been morally bankrupt since at least the Depression:
+17 # chrisconno 2018-10-15 13:24
And that is:
Every man's idea of god over everything
Only men who wish to exploit nature reign
Might is always right
Money proves god's blessing
Bosses are the bosses no matter what they violate
Children are to be seen and NOT heard
We are best at everything no matter how failed evidence proves otherwise
Americans are not terrorists no matter how many villages we bomb
Men are always smarter no matter how dumb they are
Pigmentation is always an accurate measure of a person's soul
America's imaginary friends are always right
Nature has nothing to do with anything because we are sons of god and and always right. Especially the Trump KKKlan.
+9 # economagic 2018-10-15 19:10
I don't have any particular beef with Lakoff's hierarchy or with yours, but I think the list(s) are both obvious and irrelevant. And I think there is a more precise description of what is happening.

I see these people as pitiable dried-up souls, who grew up in a culture that knew nothing but a set of myths from 2,000-4,000 years ago (myths in the better sense of the word), but virtually devoid of any understanding, so were told like their parents going back forever to obey their edicts and never to question them--so they didn't.

Of course they honor those edicts selectively and inconsistently, as they must in order to survive in the world of today.

As a result their understanding, like that of their parents, is that of a young child of 300-5,000 years ago, oblivious to everything humankind has learned since then.
+22 # margpark 2018-10-15 13:57
I see some reason to think that white evangelicals who believe the Bible is the strict word of God have taken over the Republican party. They take the teachings of the old testament to be the absolute truth given from God, rather than stories made up by desert tribesmen to try to explain the mysteries of life in their time and lack of knowledge. The ignorance of white evangelicals is self induced because they feel to accept modern truths are sinful.
+4 # economagic 2018-10-15 18:58
I think it goes well beyond the white evangelicals, and that people--mostly men--who have never been particularly devout sign on to the bandwagon because they like what they mistakenly think is the direction it's going.
+18 # nhw 2018-10-15 17:54
To insert somewhere in Lakoff's hierarchy list: Fetuses and embryos above children and adult women.
-5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-15 20:15
Max Boot is one of the leading fascists. He's going over to the democratic party where he can find similar fascists, without the southern tinge of racism and anti-immigratio n. What Boot does not like is the redneck aspects of the republicans. But he loves the Democrats and their alliance with Soros, the CIA, FBI, and global regime change. Republican are now, actually, the almost anti-war party. You can see this in Rand Paul or Walter Jones from NC.

The dark side has always ruled America. It is just now that it has taken up its residence in the democratic party. But hopefully this won't last much longer. The younger generation of progressive democrats are committed to returning the party to its liberal roots. The republican have no roots to return to other than big business.
+8 # conniejo 2018-10-16 13:32
He is not "going over to the democratic party." He states that specifically and says he is a registered independent, not a democrat. He is urging people to vote for democrats because it is the only party in a position to beat the republicans.
-4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-17 12:32
Most of these rank and file fascists - Brennan, Comey, Mueller, Boot, and a lot more -- are ex-republicans who now say they are independents. But the voted for Hillary and support her faction in the Demo party. Fewer than half of registered voters choose the two mainstream parties. There are more independents. They vote issues. These fascist neo-cons vote Democrat because that is where their issues are right now. Even the Bushes voted for Hillary.

The neo-cons are the dark side of American politics. They represent war, imperialism, torture, assassination, sanctions, and destruction of whole nations and peoples. They go to whichever party will support them the most. For the moment, it is the democrats. That's Obama's accomplishment. But hopefully it is changing.
+1 # ericlipps 2018-10-18 04:42
Most of these rank and file fascists - Brennan, Comey, Mueller, Boot, and a lot more -- are ex-republicans who now say they are independents. But the voted for Hillary and support her faction in the Demo party. Fewer than half of registered voters choose the two mainstream parties. There are more independents. They vote issues. These fascist neo-cons vote Democrat because that is where their issues are right now. Even the Bushes voted for Hillary.
Evidence, please.
+10 # wilding 2018-10-16 08:18
absolutely right, plus militarism, materialism,meg alomania=tyrann y. i wrote an essay in 1972 predicting a gansgter and gunmoll fascist amerikka inevitably trumped into where we are today. It's terrible to see what we have become when we could have been a beacon. Now what do we do? Truth is fallen and these taunting heartless boors run the show. Vile.
+5 # chapdrum 2018-10-16 14:13
Gosh Professor, who knew that American conservatism had a dark side?
-3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-17 12:36
We need to be careful to distinguish between "conservatism" and "neo-conservati sm." There are also lots of varients. The Tea Party is a conservative movement but it is neither old traditional conservatism nor neo-conservatis m. The Tea Partiers were 50 years ago Blue Dog Democrats. They are a Southern conservatives who are now republicans. Clinton is a Blue Dog conservative Democrat.

I'd go a bit easy on the traditional conservatives. But the neo-cons and Blue Dogs can go to hell -- the sure are making the world hell for the rest of us.
0 # NAVYVET 2018-11-07 07:06
Who is marking these sensible comments with negatives? Thanks, Rodion. I grew up in the white South, and the Tea Partiers, who take their name from a bunch of stalwart New England antitax rebels, are actually NeoCon(federate s).
+11 # lorenbliss 2018-10-16 15:12
Thanks to my involuntary years in the South, I have recognized "conservative" and "white Christian" as synonyms for Nazi since probably my 11th year.

And as I said to my then-girlfriend at about 2 a.m. on the 23rd of November 1963, after my newspaper colleagues and I had put out two extras and I had then driven 100 pre-Interstate miles of two-lane blacktop highway to be with her:

"Nobody dares say it, but I think we all know this is the end of the United States as we knew it."
+9 # laborequalswealth 2018-10-17 09:00
While I greatly admire Lakoff, he has just fallen into the trap he warns the rest of against: Letting the opposition define the language.

There is nothing evil about "conservatism" of any degree. The root word is "CONSERVE" - i.e. you husband your resourses and use them wisely.

America fascists have hijacked a perfectly respectable word and covered it in slime.
The right-wing in America (and it includes many so-called Demos) has little in common with real conservatism.

You do not "conserve" anything by blowing up people and property all over the planet.

You do not "conserve" anthing by allow millions of your fellow citizens to suffer and die without health care.

You do not "conserve" anything when you poison our water, food, land and air.

You do not "conserve" anything when you incarcerate more citizens than any other country on earth.

You do not "conserve" anything by making our children debt serfs just to get the education needed to compete in a global world.

You do not "conserve" anything by letting the Fed pump out phantom dollars for BANKS while our wages shrivel.

These people are NOT and never have been conserv-atives. Call them what they are: FASCIST DESTROYERS.
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-17 12:37
labor -- good point. There's a lot in common among traditional conservatives and liberals. Both actually do care about the quality of the community and its politics.

But what rules the nation now are nihilists who are only called conservative for want of a better word.
+2 # elkingo 2018-10-17 21:37
Bravo labor... That was brilliant and beautiful. I am of the persuasion that to effect those "conservations" - we must have global democratic and nationless socialism. Strange to think that in this calculus, socialism and conservatism are identical in purpose: Decency, Love. O, and it means conserving the planet too. Cheers!
+2 # elkingo 2018-10-18 00:39
The whole thing is rotten.The distinctions above are trivial relative to the big picture.
Left/Right, Conservative/Li beral/Radical/P rogressive are all nonsense now. We are confronted with Live/Die, Good/Evil, Love/Anti-Eros. A kind of soft Armageddon already in progress.

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